Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Tea Party's Constitution

          Tea Party members have put the Constitution back into politics with their frequent invocations of the Constitution as the basis for their movement. Because the Constitution serves as the basis of Tea Party politics, it is important to figure out how the Tea Party interprets the Constitution. Professor Jared Goldstein has written a fascinating essay explaining The Tea Party's Constitution and examining the intellectual roots of the Tea Party's constitutionalism. 
          It is always tricky to describe a person or a movement as fundamentalist, because the word can have pejorative implications. Professor Goldstein non-pejoratively characterizes the Tea Party constitutionalists as fundamentalist because they look to the past for their vision of government and seek to recreate a golden age from the past while criticizing much of modernity. The Tea Party fundamentalists criticize the current version of the American government and long to recreate the Founders' vision of the nation.
          The problem is that the Founders' vision, as interpreted by the Tea Party, presents the Constitution as a divinely ordained blueprint for government, which implements Biblical principles. Any violation of God's law is therefore unconstitutional. According to the Tea Party, the five central constitutional principles are devotion to God, limited government, free markets, personal property, and individualism.  Professor Goldstein shrewdly observes that the Tea Partiers spend little time discussing the actual text of the Constitution and instead rely upon their own principles of God's law. A participant in a recent Tea Party rally, for example, prepared a sort of concordance for the Preamble, connecting its language of justice, liberty, defense, tranquillity and so on to verses in the Bible. 
          Viewing the Founders' era as the golden age to be recreated today suggests that the Constitution was better before the Civil War amendments were added to it.  Indeed some Tea Partiers have backed the repeal of the Fourteenth Amendment, which has given civil equality to slaves, women, gays and lesbians as well as reproductive and sexual privacy rights to men and women, heterosexuals and homosexuals, and married and single individuals. That is one of the problems with fundamentalism: the golden past that fundamentalists idealize was not ideal for slaves and minorities. A return to that past would not be a positive development for many Americans whose political and voting rights were protected after the Civil War amendments, but not before.
          An additional problem with constitutional fundamentalists is that anyone who disagrees with their principles is perceived to be anti-American. Hence the vigorous attacks on President Obama as not just wrong but un- or anti-American, Muslim and communist. 
          In other words, the Tea Partiers are trying to turn the Constitution into a biblical religion that applies to everyone....a goal that the Constitution itself prohibits in the First Amendment

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